50 Years' Service
Familiar faces played roles in history of the medical center
Altogether, the Herwegs spent two entire careers, more than 50 years, at Children's Hospital and the School of Medicine.
As a crisply turned-out graduate of the Washington University School of Nursing, Dorothy Glahn Herweg, RN 47, was hoping for a job in the Surgical Ward at St. Louis Children's Hospital — and drew the Infants' Ward instead. But it didn't take long, she recalls, before "I fell in love with the babies." The moment that John Herweg, a Washington University medical student, stepped into Children's Hospital to begin his junior-year clerkship, he sensed that the place and field were perfect for him. "There was an aura about that institution," he says now. "I thought, 'Eureka!'"
Dottie Herweg's nursing life lasted 12 sweet years, warmed by the wordless innocence of those babies. As pediatrician and later associate dean for student affairs, John Herweg, MD 45, had 39 years filled with sick children and eager medical school applicants, personal tragedy and quiet heroism. Altogether, the Herwegs spent two entire careers, more than 50 years total, at Children's Hospital and the School of Medicine.
"John Herweg was a superb clinician — a caring, highly skilled man," says pediatrician and longtime faculty colleague Lawrence Kahn, MD. As head of the admissions committee, "he put the roots of a great tree in the ground, planted and nurtured it, and the resulting graduates are the foliage." And Dottie Herweg? "She had the toughest job in the hospital but did it with great panache."
Both Herwegs came from happy but modest backgrounds. Dottie was the daughter of a Lutheran minister in tiny Evansville IL, and the first in her family to aim for a medical career. The son of a Midwestern salesman hard hit by the Depression, John finished a premedical program at Drury College in three years and began medical school during the blistering 1942 St. Louis summer. The tuition was right for a struggling student: $250 a semester.
"There was a viewing balcony in the surgical suite, so during Orientation several of us stopped by," recalls Herweg. "We had never seen surgery — and who should be operating but thoracic surgeon Evarts Graham? He looked up and asked, 'Who are you?' A little abashed, we told him — and he said he would explain what he was doing, step by step. We sat there enthralled, listening to probably the No. 1 surgeon in the United States!"
Over the years, Herweg and his classmates were taught by five faculty members who were later named Nobel Prize winners: Carl and Gerty Cori, Joseph Erlanger, Edwin Krebs and Alfred Hershey. At graduation, their diplomas were signed by a sixth: Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton. But pediatric head and superb teacher Alexis Hartmann Sr., MD, was Herweg's mentor and inspiration.
That admiration must have been mutual. When Herweg finished medical school, graduating first in his class (with Samuel Guze, later a renowned psychiatrist, a close second), he applied for an internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital — and received a telegram saying that he had been accepted. Excited, he dashed to Hartmann's office and showed him the message.
"The next thing I knew he was tearing the telegram up," says Herweg. "He said, 'Well, Yale is a fine place, but you are staying here.' And if Dr. Hartmann said I was staying here, then I was staying here."
Meanwhile, Dorothy Glahn had finished nursing school during the lean World War II-era years. Only a year later, she became head of the 32-bed Infants' Ward at Children's Hospital. In her snowy uniform, she watched over her tiny charges, some dying and others recovering with the hearty resilience of youth.
"Many times people would ask: 'How can you work here with all these babies crying?' Well, you don't hear them — you only hear them when they are in pain and the cries change. That is what comes through to you," she says.
Her role model was exemplary head nurse Elizabeth O'Connell. Today, O'Connell recalls Glahn's nursing skill, her unflappable calm and her gracious demeanor. Privately, Glahn was a classical music aficionado. When someone donated a stereo to the Infants' Ward, she played gentle music during the children's nap time, from 1 to 2 pm.
"You could go up to that ward, Dottie would have a record on and you wouldn't hear a single baby crying," says O'Connell. "It was a toss-up as to whether it was more soothing to the babies or to the hospital staff."
Herweg's residency was interrupted by two years of military service before he could return to St. Louis to finish training and join the faculty in 1951. By this time he had a wife: fellow pediatrician Janet Scovill. During his last year of medical school, he had contracted mumps and Scovill, a house officer at Barnes Hospital, had taken care of him. They married in 1946 and soon had four children.
Then tragedies struck, three in a row. The Herwegs' eldest child, Judy, fell ill with leukemia and died; Herweg's father passed away suddenly; and Janet, who had undergone X-ray treatment for acne as an adolescent, developed multicentric breast cancer and died in 1958. She was just 39 years old.
Like other nurses, Dottie Glahn knew Janet and the Herweg children. Within a year after Janet's death, Herweg married Glahn, having persuaded her to retire from nursing, saying "it was a lot less work to take care of three children than 32." That number increased to four when the Herwegs had a daughter, Jan Marie.
Despite his losses, Herweg carried on stoically, becoming associate dean in 1965 while teaching pediatrics and serving as pediatrician to the children of many medical students and staff physicians.
As admissions head, he was known for his fairness. There was never a hint of an ethnic or religious quota under his leadership and never any preference for "legacies"; rather, the Admissions Committee weighed students' academic and personal qualities: their integrity, ability to relate to patients, interest in helping others.
He also nurtured current students when problems occurred. "As a sophomore, one medical student had an accident in which he was paralyzed from the waist down," recalls Kahn. "His parents asked John Herweg about his chances of completing his medical education, and John replied: 'We admitted him to earn his degree in medicine, and unless he changes his mind, that is what he will do.' That young man later became a chief resident in pediatrics."
The Herwegs, now celebrating 49 years of marriage, marvel at how much the hospital — and the field of medicine — have changed since they began. The advent of penicillin and other antibiotics has allowed physicians to "work miracles," says Herweg; leukemia, a death warrant in his daughter's day, is often curable now. And some of the harsh rules — especially one that restricted parents to visits only on Sunday afternoons, unless their child was critically ill — have mercifully vanished.
"If you think back to the 1940s, the transformation has been almost magical," he adds. "It is gratifying to think that Dottie and I played a small part in it."